The Swiss government presented its COVID-19 deconfinement plan on 16 April 2020. In the meantime, confinement measures have been progressively eased on 11 May and 6 June. Here, we provide an update and discuss the most important aspects to consider in order to ensure a smooth transition back to work.
Since 6 June, further businesses and institutions have reopened, (spontaneous) meetings of over 30 people and events for up to 300 people are permitted. Reopening of any business, service or facility requires that precautionary measures and rules on hygiene and social distancing are observed. At this stage, previously restricted leisure, entertainment and sports activities are now once again permitted as long as attendance lists are taken. Professional schools, universities and other educational facilities are open for classroom teaching.
The third stage in the deconfinement process means that nearly all businesses are picking up speed again. Still, many are wondering how to return to a certain level of normality. The return to the work environment in particular is associated with many questions, not only for the returning employees but also for employers and their HR function.
How should organizations transition back to the office from remote working, while ensuring that security and hygiene measures ordered by the government can be upheld, wellbeing of employees maintained and business and operations continuity safeguarded?
Employers have a duty of care towards their employees and thus are legally obliged to take all necessary and appropriate measures to safeguard their employees’ health and wellbeing. To achieve this, the employer has an extended right to give instructions to employees.
The health, safety and wellbeing of employees is and remains an employer’s priority. To this effect and in relation with the employer’s duty of care towards employees, employers should establish a return to work plan that takes into consideration measures preventing disease transmission. The plan also needs to comply with applicable government regulations.
Employers have to:
Although infection and death rates in Switzerland are decreasing and the curve is going down, the COVID-19 virus has not been eradicated; it is therefore here to stay until immunity of the population is achieved or a vaccine is found.
The return of the workforce to the office or workplace will most likely increase the risk of infection due to the movement and interaction of populations that until now have largely been confined at home.
Currently and despite the gradual easing of the measures by the Federal Council, the Swiss government still recommends, when and if possible, to maintain home office, thereby reducing the amount of social contact.
Employers must be clear on what they want and expect when allowing employees or groups of employees to return to the workplace. In this regard, a risk-benefit analysis of business/operations should be made before considering any return.
Having said this, when considering a return to work plan, employers should address in particular the following questions (non-exhaustive list of issues and merely an example of topics that could be relevant – compliance and enforceability of such measures should be checked, on an individual basis)*:
Return to work plan:
Employee health and safety:
Office or workplace cleaning and hygiene:
Particular attention and measures must be taken for people at especially high risk to ensure their protection. For these persons, employers must continue to allow working from home and ensure that the necessary organizational and technical measures are in place and maintained. If this category of employees is not able to carry out their usual activities, alternative tasks should be assigned.
If home office is not possible due to the sector in which the employer operates, the workplace and processes must be adapted to comply with the security and hygiene recommendations.
In the event that the employer is unable to meet such requirements or that employees at especially high risk refuse to return to their workplace, and home office is not possible, employers must put the affected individuals on leave and continue paying their salary. In the latter case, the employee must provide a personal declaration to that effect and the employer may request a medical certificate confirming the employee’s condition.
Working in the time of the Coronavirus has been challenging, and it remains so. The most intriguing question though is how will we work in a post-COVID-19 world?
The COVID-19 crisis has presented many challenges on all levels, disrupting the ordinary, but also inspiring quick reactions and innovative ideas in finding new ways of working together. These extraordinary times will surely have left their mark as we reconsider our current work models and redefine new solutions and ways in which to work, be productive, create and interact with one another.
*The information contained herein is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavor to provide accurate and timely information, there can be no guarantee that such information is accurate as of the date it is received, or that it will continue to be accurate in the future. No one should act on such information without appropriate professional advice after a thorough examination of the particular situation.